Thursday, July 1
Vast jungles crawling with rare, exotic animals, insects and plants. Pristine beaches and islands supporting fragile, beautiful coral reefs. Traditional kampung thatched roof houses. Sprawling urban centers sprinkled with shiny glass high rises next to run-down alleys sporting a generous helping of dirt and grime. All of these elements and much more make up the Muslim-dominated country of Malaysia, which lies under the stinging equatorial sun, right between Thailand and Singapore.
Hello, July! Hello, Malaysia! I hopped on a deluxe long-distance bus in Singapore bound for Melaka, Malaysia. While I waited at the terminal for the five-hour journey to begin, a torrential rainstorm arrived and followed the bus pretty much all day. Luckily, I cruised right through immigration as I left Singapore and at a second checkpoint a little later when I entered Malaysia.
I was amazed at the road the bus cruised down--it was a smooth concrete highway comprised of two lanes in each direction divided by a wide median with guard rails and foliage, and jungle on either side. It was just like driving down the freeway in the United States. This experience was in sharp contrast to the harrowing, driver-with-a-deathwish bus ride (full of a million near head-on collisions) that I took on a narrow road halfway across Java.
There was a man on the bus who made a snorting sound every 10 seconds and a lady who kept cracking her bubble gum, but at least those obnoxious people were several rows back so it wasn't super loud and in my face, or ears, as the case was. The bus arrived at Melaka Sentral terminal just before sunset. This place is huge--way bigger than Yogyakarta's airport building--and more like a shopping mall than a bus terminal, with shops and stalls lined up everywhere. I hopped on an old, dirty chugger of a local bus, which filled up to standing-room-only really fast, bound for Town Square.
When I hopped off there, the map in my guidebook only helped in a general sense, as it doesn't contain the name of every street, and many intersections here don't have street signs. Completely drenched in sweat, I trudged through the drizzling rain and sauna-like air toward the area of the hotels where I hoped to find a room. My first choice, Traveller's Lodge, was all booked, but I found a spot in a three-bed dorm room at Shirah's Guest House, a reasonably clean place with a small kitchen, a chill out TV room, and nice psychedelic paintings on the walls. There was a young Malaysian man--maybe in his late teens or early twenties--sharing my room, and I was stunned when his ringtone suddenly wafted out the X-Files theme. The show ended eight years ago, so that was kind of an odd thing to hear halfway around the world. It's my favorite TV show ever, and actually one of very few that I like at all.